Assorted links

1. Interview with Neil Wallace, and another one here (pdf).  Both are interesting.

2. A good best jazz of 2013 post.

3. Yet another good argument against free will.

4. Quits seem low, even if we adjust for high unemployment.

5. Cyprus update: “The one bright spot is tourism from Russia, which is enjoying an explosive growth as the country slips into a new economic and cultural orbit.”

6.  A better set of Christmas presents there are not.  And an amusing Christmas satire on economics blogs, quite good.


#4: Is "quits" subject to some of the same definitional problems as "% unemployment"?

You can't really argue against free will. If you are right, your belief or non belief isn't under your control.

Sounds like your point defends the opposite, that one can't really argue for free will – for your belief in it might be against your control. It almost seems as if your point vindicates the argument against free will.

That's because the question of the existence of free will is not well-formed. Considering this question is like trying to shake hands with your reflection in a mirror: the idea seems intelligible, but the thing cannot be done. Kant didn't list free will among his antinomies for nothing.

If there isn't at least somewhat free will you can't reason an argument at all. When I say you can't argue against free will if it doesn't exist I don't mean you can't say the words "I don't believe in free will". I mean that if free will really doesn't exist, the idea of "deciding" between arguments based on their truth value doesn't make sense. If free will doesn't exist at all, you don't make reasoned decisions. You come to whatever "conclusion" your nature plus nurture components dictate. Someone else come to whatever "conclusions" their nature plus nurture dictates. It has nothing to do with reason or logic or thought as we usually talk about any of those concepts.

Heck, if there really is no free will that might even be true. But it is meaningless to talk about logically reasoning to that position. If it were true you can't logically reason your way to any position ever.

It is an axiom not a conclusion.

I don't see how controlling that belief has any impact on the quality of the argument or the truth value of the conclusion.

If there is no free will, "quality of argument" and "truth value of the conclusion" approach meaningless. If there is no free will you aren't convinced by the truth value or the quality of the argument--your response is fore-ordained as a function of the interactions of your brain and environment and whatever else goes in. You were predisposed toward "science" arguments while a fundamentalist had inputs that led to believing "religion" arguments. One or the other may be more "true" to the outside onlooker, but we would never know because the lack of free will means that "deciding" between different arguments is a silly concept.

Arguing against free will is arguing that there is no validity in arguments. It isn't an impossible thing to believe, but it is a self defeating thing to argue.

Yes, true. If free will doesn't exist any conclusion we draw about it is meaningless. If free will does exist, it does indeed exist.

Can't be settled.

#3 as a practical matter seems insignificant compared to the challenges of communications latency. Consider how the battle of New Orleans occurred somewhat the war of 1812 had ended.

Special relativity can alter the perceived simultaneity, but does not alter the cause-effect relationships. Paradoxes of causality do not and cannot happen. In practical terms, the same laws of special relativity require that Andromeda fleet has a several year latency between launch and arrival on earth. That leaves plenty of time for non-simultaneous observers to reconcile their rather minor differences. If the differences are not minor, the observers will be so far separated as to make any difference in response moot.

Closer to home, that the satellite and ground receiver have different frames does not prevent ground from using the satellite, nor is the noticeable time lag a show stopper. It is simply a cost of doing business and the laws of physics make adjustment to the reality manageable, if not entirely trivial.

Yes. I am surprised that Penrose considers this paradox a paradox, but then he is crazy — quantum consciousness, impossibility of strong AI and all that New Age tosh.

+1 for Penrose & crazyness.

The 'past' of all earthly beings (and rocks and trees) converges to a perfect intersection as the fleet approaches. The fact that there was ever any divergence is immaterial. The author confuses divergence of hyperdimensional space relative to different 'observers' (different points in space-time) with different 'knowledge.' He assumes that the divergence can be 'known' and hence begs the question on different objective realities to the observer.


One can explain the convergence using a Minkowski two dimensional space-time to any junior high schooler who has had an introduction to analytic geometry and trig. The twin paradox is thus resolved.

I'm confused re #3. What, exactly, *is* this good argument? Let's try to figure it out:

The conclusion is that the aliens' decision to invade was not free. (As Penrose says, "How can there still be some uncertainty as to the outcome of that decision? If to either person the decision has already been made, then surely there cannot be any uncertainty. The launching of the space fleet is an inevitability.")

This is shown by the fact that there are frames relative to which the decision has already been made, and as we all know the past is fixed.

Two points in reply:

1) Many compatibilists deny that the past is fixed, so this is only even an argument that there's no free will if compatibilism is false. While I grant that compatibilism is false, it is a very common view, so as an argument that there's no free will the RPP argument has a major hole in it.

2) Even if we assume that incompatibilism is true, there is still a major hole in the argument: incompatibilists grant, and indeed typically insist, that the past is fixed and unchangeable. If relativity is true, what's past is relative. But how does that entail, or even suggest, that every decision is unavoidable or unfree? Because there's some frame relative to which it is past? That doesn't do it. Forget relativity, and assume that there's a 4-dimensional block universe with a preferred temporal foliation. That's perfectly compatible with free will, even if incompatibilism is true. For it might be the case that certain choices made in that universe are not determined by the past (relative to the time of the choice) and the laws of nature. If those choices also meet some other (notoriously difficult to specify) conditions, those choices will be free. Yes, they will be "past" choices from the perspective of people "later" in the block, and so those choices will be fixed from that perspective. But that doesn't show that they weren't freely made, since they weren't fixed by the past of the chooser and the laws.

I'm just not sure how adding relativity to the mix could change things in a way that rules out free will (if incompatibilism is true). It's not something in that wikipedia article, is it? Or am I the one missing something here?

"Free will exists y/n?" should be unasked or at least much better specified. I like the treatment of this at

Eliezer is clever, but ultimately, I found the argument unsatisfying. Dennett wrote a whole book on free will that I also found unsatisfying- sort of a "God of the gaps" feel. On the plus side, these are gaps that science may never close.

I'm very conflicted myself. Anyone with a scientific mindset sees the appeal of determinism. Carving out 'free will' from this framework always feels like sleight of hand to me.

On the other hand, I have very visceral feelings about the word "should", which has no meaning in a deterministic universe. Oh well.

"Free will cannot possibly exist, or else someone would have taken it." -a learned economist

I showed #3 to a physicist, and he said special relativity has nothing to do with whether or not we have free will.

Thanks, I studied physics and was going to say the same thing. Penrose's observations based on special relativity are not clear, and in no way defeats free will. Here are two other 'analogous' arguments to show 'no free will' based on #3:

The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, after the War of 1812 was officially over, due to lack of information that the war was over. Does this show lack of free will?

It is well documented that every human observes events a few milliseconds after they actually occur, due to the time it takes for information to be received and processed by the brain. Older people have slower reflexes so this observation time is a bit longer than for younger people. Does this mean that there's no free will since older people are living in a 'slower' or 'delayed' universe or sphere of events (even if by a few milliseconds) than younger people?

Another example of why you should not take your cues about physics from economics, or, dare I say, about economists blogging about our tech future! :)

I don't buy the argument, but it neither relies on observation or perception. And as you say it has no effect on free will. Not even omniscience and presience are dispositive of free will.

Free will only comes into question when sentient decisions become inevitable, and even there the chemical paths are still a matter of free choice. Even as I begin to type the word 'choice,' my next typed characters are predictable, but I can change my mind, nearby events could delay when I type them, or I can conclude in the midst of typing that I disagree with my own argument and erase it all.

@Willitts: "I don’t buy the argument, but it neither relies on observation or perception " - but what does Penrose's argument depend on? It seems to depend on a variant of the Twin Paradox, in that frames of reference of time are different, relative to the movement of the observer. That's my point. I too agree with your other argument points.

His use of the word 'observer' is a convenience to anthropomorphize the reference point. An inanimate reference point would not know or understand the concept of 'past.' The physics doesn't require it. It only helps us to understand it.

But in this case, understanding is counterproductive. It conjures the notion that in my past the invasion has begun but in yours it hasn't yet and, thus, there is room for the choice to be changed. But this is a fallacy. The alien's choice is made when it is made, and the relative position in space-time of all other objects is irrelevant. From any reference point, the past is a cone that narrows to a point as it reaches the present. In the present, the past from the point of view of any reference point is for all intents and purposes aligned and continuous. So if I'm looking at one side of a car, I can be utterly certain, absent a deliberate trick, that the side outside of my view is there. Your view of the same car from the other side is just as certain, and the car has the same past from either of our points of view. The fact that at some point there was some small divergence of the car's past between you and me is immaterial. Divergent pasts are memoryless. When they get to the present, they are nearly identical save a slight difference in position, alignment, relative motion. And the differences are continuous and consistent. I mean, if you saw the car moving from your left to right, I on the other side would see it from my right to left. We would both observe some of the same spota on the windshield, albeit from different angles. We might both see a crack in the windshield, and it couldn't be the case that in my past the windshield got cracked by a choice but in your past it didn't get cracked. There would be consistency and continuity in the car reaching a spot on the ground between you and me. As the car moves toward the present, the cracking of the windshield in my past and yours will coincide and our pasts will be congruent.

Time confines the transportation through space to continuous transformation. A baseball hit by a bat will never turn into a jellyfish although the baseball's cover might sometimes fall off the core. Time not only makes things very predictable, it is necessary for existence.

I also was wondering how this paradox related to free will.

The sometime-science satirist strannikov has succinctly stated the solution to #3:

Earth: the locality where seven billion planets and universes collide daily.

--along with an adjunct definition, and many more equally helpful:

(strannikov claims not to hail from the Andromeda Galaxy himself.)

The observational component of the argument only serves to help humans understand the relativist relationship. Every particle of matter or energy would have its own universe, many colliding with the aforesaid 7 billion.

I'm pretty sure Douglas Adams addressed this topic.

I am sorry for frequently polluting your comments section with my own blog posts, but you keep touching on subjects I just happen to be looking into.

I'm not sure how strong the argument is that quits are low. They are roughly at the same place they were in 2003 & 2004 when the unemployment rate was around 6%. I'd say quits are strong, by that measure.

Here is a post I had just scheduled where I look at potential influences:

Interesting post. I guess my post concerned the first derivative more than the variable itself, though in analyzing recovery this is a fair vantage point. I did note, in reference to Tyler, that an aging country may well exert a downward pressure on reasonable quits though concluded the magnitudes did not justify this explanation alone. You did the due diligence on this.

Do note that saying we are where we were in 2003 sounds a lot better than it is, given that was a trough on quits.

I agree with Ashok that a low quit rate (regardless of whether the heights of the unemployment rate in this cycle might have predicted an even lower quit rate) suggests those fortunate to be employed have less wage bargaining power than those employed earlier in the decade. Some have argued that all is well/back to normal in the labor market but for the long-term employed and the still quit rates (among other things) seem to contradict that notion. I think it is excellent to see you both tearing into detailed labor market data (and thinking hard about demographic trends) ... helping to disabuse anyone still left with the idea that the aggregate unemployment rate gives the clearest, complete signal of the labor market.

I'd be interested on more discussion between inflation and quit rates. Low quit rates would presumably decrease the chance of a wage/price spiral for any given level of employment. In turn, as the threat of quitting decreases you may actually be seeing a decrease in the rate of unemployment consistent with lowish inflation... suggesting there is even more slack in the labor market than consensus.

All said, that analysis does not sit well with me. Of course, it's not a particularly surprising result. Plenty of theoretical models allow for a lower NAIRU as union density falls, and this is pretty similar in its effect on wage-price dynamics, no?


Let's take the assertion you agreed with: "Low quit rate suggests those employed have less wage bargaining power "

My worry is that quit rates proxy for far more complex factors than mere bargaining power. Perhaps power exists but people just got risk-averse or employers adopted better retention techniques etc. Even with mere technical specialization comes a natural reduction in bargaining power but that's hardly something to fear. There's likely a gap between having the power to leave a job and in actually leaving.

My point is, as richer features of data sets get exploited sometimes this becomes a game of creative hypothesis generation and nothing more.

As I mentioned on Ashok's blog, I think what's missing is the labour force participation rate. I suspect it would explain why quits/bargaining power remain particularly weak in this recovery, regardless of the improvement in the unemployment rate...

This is exactly the sort of analysis that is missing from sites like Calculated Risk which essentially presents public data and other people's work.

You might try different assumptions about the distribution of age groups among quits and unemployed to see how robust your conclusions are.

Wow, #3 explains the conflict between hikers and mountain bikers. The difference between 3 mph and even 15 mph is huge, enough to split worlds.

It means that 'the past' from the point of view of two observers diverges along the border of a cone that widens with distance. The distant past may be significantly different, but the recent past would be very close, and as they change speed or direction, the distal ends of the respective cones would cross like beams of light from two searchlights.

But for that matter, your head and toes would have different pasts as would your big toe and middle toe.

For all intents and purposes, these differences are no difference at all.

The convergence can be explained in terms of special relativity by using a minkowski 2-space but the more general explanation implies general relativity effects from change in motion and the Lorentz equivalence principle. Toes and eyes almost always are in different frames because of the gravitational gradient (microscopically visible as tides) . A university student lab experiment can demonstrate this with the spectral shift observed in the Mossbauer effect,

3. Nonsense.

Even if one buys the personal dimension argument, the aliens exercise their free will in their own dimension, others exercise their free will on everything they know, and as the alien force reaches earth the perception of their arrival is practically at identical times for all observers. Or, put more precisely, the realities of all things near the invasion fleet converge toward one another and are, by necessity, continuous in 3D space.

I know the article said it wasn't about 'seeing,' but the argument is nearly identical.

4. If this kid is up for an adult adoption, I'm interested.

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